Navy misfires on biofuel subsidies

Published on Friday, 12 July 2013 21:34 - Written by

A new naval appointment by the Obama administration could result in the propping up of an industry that should have imploded long ago — expensive biofuels that cost more and are less efficient than petroleum.

“The Obama administration has selected a renewable energy advocate and retired admiral to be the Navy’s new energy chief, according to an announcement from the White House,” the U.S. Naval Institute reports. “Retired Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn — former president and chief executive of the American Council of Renewable Energy — has been nominated to be the Navy’s assistant secretary for energy, installations, and environment. The vocal advocate for renewable energy resources — if confirmed by the Senate — will head the office in charge of maintaining naval installations, the Navy’s environmental programs and, ‘conservation of natural and cultural resources,’ according to office’s website.”

Natural and cultural resources should be conserved — no argument there. But the kinds of biofuels McGinn has advocated don’t do that.

You’ll recall that last summer, the Navy was under fire about its so-called “Green Fleet,” which proved to be little more than a PR and financial boondoggle.

“A U.S. Navy oiler slipped away from a fuel depot on the Puget Sound in Washington state one recent day, headed toward the central Pacific and into the storm over the Pentagon’s controversial green fuels initiative,” the Reuters news agency reported last July. “In its tanks, the USNS Henry J. Kaiser carried nearly 900,000 gallons of biofuel blended with petroleum to power the cruisers, destroyers and fighter jets of what the Navy has taken to calling the ‘Great Green Fleet,’ the first carrier strike group to be powered largely by alternative fuels.”

But the fuel — which, according to Reuters, is “squeezed from seeds, algae and chicken fat” — isn’t actually green. It takes far more energy to produce it than it produces itself. Most biofuel production causes “high levels of greenhouse gas emissions,” according to RAND Corporation researcher James Bartis, who has studied the Navy’s efforts.

And the fuel is far more expensive.

“The experimental fuel — bought in limited quantities — costs $26 a gallon compared to $3.60 for conventional fuel, according to 2012 information from the Navy,” USNI points out.

After his retirement, Vice Admiral McGinn took the helm of the American Council on Renewable Energy, where he advocated propping up the biofuels industry with huge government purchases and mandates.

“The military has a long, distinguished history of driving innovation and major economic transitions in this country, whether it’s in aviation, communications, or even the Internet,” he wrote on that group’s blog in December. “Now it’s the industry’s turn. It’s critical that renewable energy stakeholders reach out to House members and assert their belief in the need for military advancement of homegrown biofuels. Lawmakers must understand that future spending authorizations on sustainable fuels enhance the U.S. military’s efforts to keep America safer and, in turn, spur economic and job growth across the country.”

McGinn has a long and distinguished service record. That’s far more than can be said of the biofuels he advocates.